Before the first iPhone was released in June 2007, it was remarkably easy to question just how large the consumer market for smart phones would be. Similar questions are being raised about "wearable" internet-connected devices but perhaps with the iPhone lesson in mind, a growing number of companies are unveiling offerings targeting the nascent wearables space. The latest: Google.
Last week, the search giant announced the Android Wear project, which will bring the Android platform to "wearable" devices like watches. In addition, it released a Developer Preview so that developers can start to adapt their Android applications to support new functionality Android Wear will introduce. Later this year, a full SDK with new Android APIs for wearable experiences will be unveiled.
The creation of Android Wear is driven by a desire to create a world in which "information...moves with you," so it's not surprising that Google is initially focusing the Android Wear project on a specific type of wearable: the wristwatch.
Notifications, which are supported by the APIs available today in the Developer Preview, enable Android apps to deliver their notifications to Android watches. Future APIs will allow developers to create custom UIs, send data to phones and other services, collect data from sensors and display it, and respond to voice actions.
Potential applications are plentiful. Android Wear will provide a new screen on which existing information and entertainment services can deliver their content. And it will create opportunity for new services. For instance, Android-enabled watches could be used to interact with the rapidly growing number of health and quantified self platforms that gather data from connected devices.
Wearables: the next big thing?
From upstarts like Nest, which Google purchased for $3.2b, to established companies like Venstar, manufacturers of hardware devices are increasingly looking to build platforms that can connect our physical world with software and online services. And for good reason: there is clear demand from businesses and consumers alike.
While Nest offers proof that large fortunes are already being made, there's growing excitement around more nascent consumer opportunities. And when it comes to these opportunities, many believe that the wearables space is the next big thing.
With Android Wear, Google is officially planting its flag and starting to woo the companies and developers who can build the killer apps that Android-enabled watches will ostensibly need if they're to become attractive to mainstream consumers. That gives it a head start over Apple, which is rumored to be working on an "iWatch" that some observers suggest could be an important part of the company's growth going forward.
New screen, same API
When it comes to head starts, Android Wear provides yet another example of the advantages API-centric companies have in today's conneced world. Suppliers of information services, for instance, aren't likely to have a problem distributing their information to Android-enabled wearable devices if they already have APIs. Ditto for health and fitness platforms. To these companies, connected devices are just another screen that consumes their APIs.
Obviously, nobody knows just how successful Android Wear will be, but companies that have already invested in API development don't need to risk taking a potentially costly leap of faith to jump on the emerging wearables trend.